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Erasmus and the Arians: Remarks on the "Consensus Ecclesiae"

Author(s): James D. Tracy


Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Jan., 1981), pp. 1-10
Published by: Catholic University of America Press
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The

Catholic

Historical

Review
Vol. LXVII

1981 No. 1

JANUARY,

ERASMUS AND THE ARIANS:

REMARKSON THE CONSENSUSECCLESIAE


BY
James D. Tracy*
the Arian controversy of the fourth cen
than a little light on the
tury, though brief in scope, shed more
as
to
humanist
what
the Rotterdam
much-debated
really
question
to which
he professed
al
thought about the consensus Ecclesiae
Erasmus'

comments

about

legiance.1

The starting point for this discussion would appear to be Erasmus'


the "Dialogue between a
edition of a small treatise by St. Jerome,
in 386, not long
Luciferian
and an Orthodox
Believer,"
composed
in 381. Lucifer of Caligari
led a
after the Council of Constantinople
with bishops
small party in the Church which
refused communion
who had signed one or another of the creeds now regarded as tainted
influence. As part of his effort to bring the Luciferian
by Arian
the wayward
orthodox
around,
speaker seeks to excuse
Jerome's
a
in
their
conduct
past
plausible
light. In par
bishops by presenting
at
200
the
he
Latin
maintains
that
the
ticular,
Synod of Ri
bishops
true
could be
mini
in 359 were
convinced
that
peace
sincerely
and the integrity of the faith not compromised,
by striking
achieved,
so offended
term hotnoousion,
which
from their creed the Nicene
character. Only
many because of its novelty and its non-Scriptural
the language
of
that
the
discover
did
bishops
subsequently
majority
devised by the
interpretations
they adopted could still accommodate
"the world
At this point,
says Jerome,
genuinely Arian minority.
* Mr.

in the University
Twin Cities.
is a professor
of history
of Minnesota,
en de Reformatie
Cornells
Erasmus
1962);
(Amsterdam,
Augustijn,
zur R?mischen
Kirche
Die Stellung
des Erasmus
1966);
Georg Gebhardt,
(Freiburg,
and Roland
Erasmus
1969).
(New York,
Bainton,
of Christendom
1

See

Tracy

especially

AND THE ARIANS


ERASMUS

to find itself Arian." He meant,


of course,
groaned, and marvelled
*
that the majority
of bishops at Rimini were Arian' only unintention
modern
ally, not in a full sense. But a similar ambiguity?which
trace
scholars have avoided by inventing the term "semi-Arian"?is
able also in Erasmus*

of the controversy.2
discussion
In the Froben Hieronymi
remarks in his
Opera of 1516, Erasmus
or preface to the "Dialogue against the Luciferians"
that
argumentum
is
in his polemical writings,
Jerome,
though usually quite vitriolic
even to the point of being
temperate on this occasion,
commendably
"less unfair" (minus iniquus) to the Arians. Erasmus himself seems to
have adopted Jerome's attitude: "the error of the Arians was more
[seil.,
truly a faction or a schism than a heresy, since the adversaries
the Arians] were virtually equal in number, and superior in learning"
in the classics
(Jerome had said the Arian bishops were well-versed
and drew their arguments
from Aristotle's
recog
logic).3 Erasmus
nized that the word haeresis
(unlike schisma) connoted
following a
definite belief or school of thought, but he stressed (with Origen) that
the 'intractable contumacy' of preferring one's own opinion to that of
the Church at large was more to be condemned
than the mere fact of
at times half the
error.4 Thus a party which
comprised
world or more could not be guilty of that prideful rebellion
the real sin of heresy consisted.
to the 1516 New Testament,
to which Erasmus
turned
notes
The
a
on
instances
of
number
Jerome, mention
immediately after his work

doctrinal

Christian
in which

Vol.
cum Luciferiano,"
Orthodoxi
23, cols.
Latina,
Patrolog?a
Migne,
"Dialogus
it
171-191. On the Synod of Rimini,
and the Fourth or 'Dated' Creed of Sirmium which
see Henry Melvill
Studies
1900),
(2d ed.; Cambridge,
Gwatkin,
of Arianism
adopted,
132-170.
3
1516), Vol. 3: f. 61-66. On the Arians as learned:
(Basel: Froben,
Hieronymi
Opera
Beddae
in Errores Natalis
he.
(published
cit., col. 174. In his Supputations
Migne,
ver
writes:
"Alicubi scribo: 'Arrianorum
error, factio schismaque
early 1527) Erasmus
pp.

doc
numero
eloquentia
prope pares erant,
haeresis,
quod adversarii
"
ed. J. Leclercq
Batavorum,
[Lugduni
(f)es. Erasmi
Opera,
superiores'
occurs after a citation
cited as LB). The passage
Vol.
9: 717D; hereafter
1702-1706],
a
from the scholia to
before
of
and
citation
to
the
from his preface
(1523)
Hilary,
Opera
it comes.
but I have not thus far been able to find whence
Jerome's
'Dialogue,'
4
of haeresis,
LB IX, 239C, 346F; Letter
For Erasmus'
views on the meaning
1232,
D. Erasmi
lines 22-30, in P. S. Allen, Opus Epistolarum
1906-1958;
(12 vols.; Oxford,
ius erat

quam

trinaque

in Epistolam
ad Romanos,
cited as Allen),
IV, 573. Cf. Origen, Cowmentaria
[Paris,
18621), p. 884. Short
2:8, ed. Charles Vincent Delarue
(Patrolog?a Graeca, XIV
und Kirche,
sketches of the history of the term may be found in Lexikon fur Theologie
13-15.
in Geschichte
und Gegenwart,
HI,
V, 6-8, and Die Religion
hereafter

BY JAMESD. TRACY

in which,

the orthodox Fathers


to Erasmus,
strained the
according
a
a
text
to
of
in
in
it
order
find
decisive
refutation
particular
meaning
of the Arians.
For Philippians
2:6 the Vulgate
text reads: "...
qui
cum in forma Dei esset, non rapinam arbitratus est esse se aequalem
sed semet ipsum exinanivit
formam servi accipiens."
Erasmus
Deo,
knows that "writers of great authority"
such as St. Hilary
and St.
a
club"
the
in
have
used
this
"as
passage
Augustine
Arians,
against
mean
to
to
not
it
think
it
Christ
did
unlawful
claim
equal
terpreting
ity with God, since he was of the same form or essence. But he pre
fers the reading of St. Ambrose: Christ, though he was of divine form
or appearance
did not claim equality
because of his life and miracles,
so
with God, but rather subjected himself, as an example of humility,
as to be exalted by the Father.5
he
In regard to 1 Timothy
1:16,
suspects a word has been added to the Greek text, lest Arians have an
excuse for thinking that Paul refers to the Father as solus Deus.6 At
shows how Augustine
misread
the text. In the
John 8:25 Erasmus
et
vobis
takes
Vulgate
rendering, "Principium qui
loquor," Augustine
to the subject, so that Jesus is saying, *I,
the first word in apposition
. . .' But Erasmus
the beginning,
observed
that the
say unto you.
ten archen
is an accusative
form with adverbial meaning;
the sense is, Tn the first place I say unto you.' He remarks
that the term prin
further, this time in agreement with Augustine,
not
in
any event, since strictly speaking
proper to Christ
cipium is
in an absolute sense, that
only the Father may be called principium
deitatis.1 This discussion
takes on added significance
is, principium

Greek
hence

at John 17:3, where Jesus addresses


the Father as "te solum verum
a
Deum." Erasmus here offers
possible justification of Arian religious
concerns which goes well beyond Jerome's
'Dialogue': "This passage
more than others provided
so
occasion
for the error of the Arians,
that they might
wonder whether
our theologians

say the Father alone is truly and properly God. But I


they did not mean nothing more than this, to which
also assent, namely,
that the Father alone is the be

On

his remarks
defends
2:6, LB IX, 205-207,
270BE,
286B, Erasmus
Philippians
1516 NT
the criticisms
of Edward
(his
Lee; see also LB VI, 867-868
against
on this passage
as taken by Leclercq
comments
from the final NT
edition of 1535).
6
LB IX, 231B.
7
LB IX, 183A-189A
of any single topic in Erasmus' Respon
(the longest treatment
siones ad Annotationes
Ed. Lei);
cf. LB VI,
at this point followed
375B. Erasmus
in the

Lorenzo

Valla's

by Erasmus

criticism

himself

of Augustine:
in Novum
Adnotationes
Testamentum
in X. Vallae Opera
1:842.
1962), Vol.
(Turin,

in 1505),

(edited

ERASMUS
AND THEARIANS

of Divinity."8
between the
ginning (principium)
Certainly differences
two parties were not serious enough to warrant
tearing apart the
In a note to the word char akter in He
harmony among Christians.
brews 1, Erasmus
is reminded of hypostaseos,
in turn calls to
which
in my opinion,
mind homoousion:
"a matter
to have
unworthy,
caused East and West to fall into pitiless war against each other, and
shamefully to disrupt the peace of the world."9
It lies beyond the scope of this paper to discuss Erasmus'
theology
save to express agreement with John Payne's
of Christ,
conclusion
was mildly
that his Christology
subordinationist,
though definitely
not Arian.10 More
to the point here is the striking novelty of his at
or even sympathetic
account of the Arian
tempt at a dispassionate
of
view.
To
the
orthodox
Fathers
in their partisan zeal
point
him,
were not above
the
of
'twisting'
meaning
Scripture.11 The Arians
were more learned than the orthodox, and sometimes equally numer
of Scripture
could be equally plausible,12
ous; their interpretations
and their root religious concern was at least possibly of such a kind as
might now be accepted by orthodox theologians. One might wonder,
viewed
the ultimate victory of the or
then, in what
light Erasmus
thodox party at the Council
of Constantinople
in 381, where
the
was restored to the creed once and for all. His conserva
homoousion
tive critics were not slow to ask the same question.
Lee, a young English theologian who circulated criticisms
New Testament
in 1517 and finally pub
annotations
lished them a few years later, called him to task at every point where
he questioned
of a supposed proof text against
the meaning
the
Arians. In his Responsiones
ad Annotationes
Ed. Lei (1520), Erasmus
in one place turns the tables on Lee, his orthodox critic, and chides
Edward

of Erasmus'

LB

IX, 252E-253E.
LB IX, 271C-F.
10
John Payne, The Theology
of Erasmus
(Richmond,
11
LB VI, 868 (note to Philippians
2:6 as taken from

1971), pp.
1535 NT);

56-59.

see also Wolfgang


to Erasmus,
Capito
Allen, Letter 459, lines 93-95, II, 336.
12
LB IX, 353BC:
in regard to the disputed
text in 1 John 5 concerning
the three
witnesses?which
to the text to refute
Erasmus
in 1516 had said was added
heavenly
the Arians?he
that the Arians would
'with equal right'
contends,
against
Stunica,
even if the genuineness
insist on the reading favorable
to their position;
of
(part jure)
this passage
not be 'so stupid' as not to realize that it could still
be granted
they would
be interpreted
in a manner
as Augustine
their beliefs,
himself does in
congruent with
"
are one, that is, they testify to the
the Arian Maximian:
The
Three
writing
against
"
same thing.'
As elsewhere
notes
"Certe ego, quod
(see below,
17, 18), he concludes:
negant

Arriani,

non video

posse

doceri,

nisi

ratiocinatione."

BY JAMES D.

TltACY

him for failing to realize how far from orthodoxy Arius' teaching was.
Where Erasmus
had said Arians denied the divinity of Christ, Lee
in reply correctly noted
retorted that they did cadi him 'God.' Erasmus
the distinction
the terms magnus Deus and verus Deus,
between
the
latter of which Arians reserved for God the Father alone.13 But then
in effect lays the ground for his own defense by suggesting
Erasmus
that there were probably different kinds of Arians,
just as there were
different
since the term
schools of Stoics or Academics.
Moreover,
off
from
the
union of the
oneself
'heresy' means deliberately
cutting
the Arian movement,
which at certain times and places out
Church,
can hardly be called heresy.14 As to doc
numbered
its opponents,
trine, it is true that Arians spoke of Christ as a creatura of the Father;
'to be born of
but, Erasmus
asks, what if by this term they meant
some
manner
to
to be
have
from
in
one's
and
another,
another,
being
to Jerome's
made?'15 In the same context he directs Lee's attention
account of the Synod of Rimini,
in order to show that (as he had said
was
to have
at Hebrews
homoousion
indeed "unworthy"
the
1),
a schism. Quoting
if somewhat
from Jerome,
apparently
was very
he
the
Rimini
so-called
'Arian'
creed
of
that
loosely,
suggests
close to orthodox teaching on the three Persons of the Trinity:
"The
to confess, and indeed did confess, that 'the Son
Arians were willing
of God is begotten of God,
like unto the Father,
and of the same
caused

even this last point, unless I am mistaken,


nature with Him'?for
not
to the contrary,
did
should
be noted that, Erasmus
they
deny." (It
the Creed of Rimini made no reference to a sameness or even likeness
'of nature' between Father and Son, though some of its adherents did
hold to the latter view.) If there was this much agreement
between
to give up
it not preferable
Erasmus
continues, was
to
terms
and other disputed
'rather than
permit such an
insatiable conflict?' One is not surprised when he concludes as fol
lows: "Had I had any authority at those synods where the peace of
the world was at issue, I would have argued that it were better to
or homoiousion
por
profess ignorance of what the words homoousion

the parties,
homoousion

tend with
or attack
13LB
14
On
15
LB
16
LB
op. cit.,

rather than either to maintain


regard to the divine Persons,
them at the cost of such great tumult."16

IX, 252E, 252F.


of haeresis,
the meaning
IX, 272BC.
IX,
pp.

272B-273B;
357-368.

LB LX,

cf. Jerome's

239C,

Dialogus,

346F; Allen,
ed. Migne,

col.

V,

466.

179-180,

and Gwatkin,

AND THEARIANS
ERASMUS

In subsequent writings between


1521 and 1527 Erasmus defended
his original statements on Arianism with equal firmness. When
from
Spain Jaime Lopez de Zu?iga published a critique of his New Testa
ment scholarship,
in which he listed ten passages manifestly
proclaim
of Christ, Erasmus
took up the challenge,
arguing
ing the divinity
that each of the ten passages could be taken in a sense different from
what Zu?iga thought.17 His conclusion was that the divinity of Christ
from the New
Testament
could not be proven
except
by a
or
on
an
based
the
that
argument
text,
is,
ratiocinatio,
interpretation
but not identical with its indisputable
As for Arius
literal meaning.18
often during these years applies to him a saying of
Erasmus
he was a learned man driven from the
Jerome's about Tertullian:
a fair
Church by the envy of the clergy, precipitately
and without
same
true
recent
in
he
of
the
been
has
adds,
time,
John Wyc
hearing;
liff and Martin
in
Erasmus
Luther.19 As for the orthodox Fathers,
himself,

1523 edited the Opera of Hilary of Poitiers. In the preface he admitted


that "the inquisitive
the Church of
subtlety of the Arians" compelled
the fourth century, even against
its will, to formulate more precise
terms by which
human
the ineffable mystery
of Christ's divinity
view
be
But
his
of
Hilary and of his role
might fittingly
proclaimed.
in defending
belief
the orthodox position was colored by a mistaken
that Hilary of Poitiers was identical with the Hilary of Rome whose
in regard to former Arians is attacked by Jerome in
rigorist mentality
his "Dialogue against the Luciferians."20
Erasmus had no wish to re
vive Arian teaching; to do so now, when the whole Church had been
of a different persuasion
for many centuries, would truly be heresy.21
But he insists again in 1526, this time in reply to the Sorbonne
in the fourth century,
that Arianism
sup
theologian Noel Bedier,
the Pope (here he seems to follow
ported at times by the Emperor,
of bishops, was
Platina's account of Pope Liberius),
and a majority
or schism within the Church.22
not heresy but afactio
To sum up, two great parties contended for decades over a doctri
nal issue which could not be resolved from the plain text of Scripture,
of the Church,
nor, for obvious
nor,
reasons, from the consensus
a
of
the
the
become
Arianism
did
finally,
by
authority
Pope.
17
LB
18LB
19LB

IX,

309D-311C.

IX,
IX.

310B,

353C;

see below,

notes

32, 33.

190.
1118E; Allen, VI,
20
critical of Hilary
184; Allen notes that the passage
Allen, VI,176,
realized
the 1530 edition of this letter, meaning
that by then Erasmus
21
LB IX, 717E, "Nunc haeresis
est, quia nulli sunt Ariani."
22 LB
IX, 717DF.
769EF,

is deleted
his error.

from

BY JAMES D. TRACY

heresy?that
is, a wilful rupture of the concord of the Church?after
the final victory of the orthodox party at Constantinople.
But even
to
Erasmus
himself
twelve
allows
wonder
centuries
now, nearly
later,
whether
the Church might not have been better served by retaining
rather than by restoring
and irenic formula of Rimini,
and divisive
the unambiguous
homoousion.
Hence,
its
though it be heresy to break away from the consensus Ecclesiae,
content is still in some way open to question. One is reminded of
on other issues. He would have preferred St.
Erasmus' ambivalence
on
the rebaptism of heretics, but he accepts the
Cyprian's
teaching
Church's judgment against it.23 In 1526 he would have preferred the
but
Eucharistie
doctrine of the Protestant Reformer Oecolampadius,
the Real Presence because it is the consensus
feels bound to maintain
the point, he writes at this time to a
As if to emphasize
Ecclesiae.24
the ambiguous
to the creed

the authority of
"How much
Pirckheimer:
friend, Willibald
to others I know not; for me it is of sufficient
the Church means
had the
worth that I could agree with the Arians and the Pelagians
is to
Church approved what they taught."25 The consensus Ecclesiae
it seems, not because Erasmus
is necessarily
convinced of
be upheld,
its intrinsic truth, but because to rend the seamless garment of Chris
tian unity is a great sin, indeed the sin of heresy. As Richard Popkin
trusted

the Catholic
here anticipates
fideists of the
has observed,
Erasmus
later sixteenth century, who doubted
that men could ever agree on
the basis of Scripture or of human reason, and so looked to ecclesias
tical authority as the only bulwark against the chaos of private opin
ion. Religious
truth is thus the daughter of time, not in the sense that
there exists for Erasmus a transcendent dogmatic truth which must in
time become manifest
to the world, but rather in the sense that what
emerges with time as the consensus
as truth by God-fearing men.26
23
24

LB

IX,

Ecclesiae

deserves

to be accepted

483DF.

op. cit., pp. 172-185.


216.
Allen, VII,
26
At a conference
of Reformation
scholars

25

Augustijn,

a few years ago, Professor


Roland Bain
ton pointed
out that Erasmus
in his rejection of
from the consensus Ecclesiae
departs
en de Theorie
van den Rechtvaar
the just war doctrine
"Erasmus
(see Robert Regout,
digden
Reeks,
Cor.
should
parties,

Oorlog,"
Bijdragen
VII [1936],
155-171)
7:30 in the 1519 New
perhaps
distinguish
on which
Erasmus

like divorce
matters,
of schism.

voor

en Oudheidkune,
7e
Vaderlandsche
Geschiendenis
in his advocacy
of divorce
(see his ten-page note at 1
one
of heresy,
In light of Erasmus'
notion
Testament).
are at issue between
matters
which
between
contending
and

to respect
the consensus
felt bound
or the just war doctrine,
on which dissent

Ecclesiae,
carried no

and

other

implication

AND THEARIANS
ERASMUS

Erasmus had not, however,


In
spoken his last word on Arianism.
the fall of 1526, just after finishing his apologia against Noel Bedier,
he began revising his New Testament
for a fourth edition which was
to appear in March,
in his conviction
1527. Without
that
slackening
the Fathers
he
had in many places misinterpreted
the Scriptures,
nonetheless
deleted earlier expressions of sympathy for the 'Arian' or,
in modern parlance,
semi-Arian position. His comment that homoou
sion was 'unworthy' to have caused schism is dropped from the note
to Hebrews
at John 17:3, whether
the Arians
1, as is the question,
to assert that only the Father could be called prin
are generally more fa
While
the 1527 annotations
deitatis.21
cipium
it
of
earlier editions,28
than
those
vorable to ecclesiastical
authority
seems likely that Erasmus' attitude toward Arianism was particularly
some of whose writings he translated at
influenced by St. Athanasius,
an unspecified
1527. Earlier remarks about
time prior to February,

merely

wished

Athanasius
betray a certain coolness, but his preface to the transla
for the great defender of the homoousion.29
tions is full of admiration
notes is directly
influence in the 1527 New Testament
Athanasian
traceable at John 1:3, where Erasmus now includes, for the first time,
an argument
from Athanasius
about the significance of the article in
the Johannine phrase, kai ho logos en pros ton theon.30
Four years later, in the second of two apologies against the Italian
humanist Alberto Pio, another of his orthodox critics, Erasmus was
forced once again to defend his statement that Arianism was more a
faction or schism than a heresy. As before, he points out that Pope
and Emperor at one time supported the 'Arians.' But he now adds a
"It was heresy in the sight of God, but among men there
qualification:
was uncertainty,
the public voice of the Church having not yet been
for the first time he suggests that a transcendent
heard."31 Thus
standard of dogmatic
it could not yet be
truth did exist, even when
discerned within human time. A subtle but significant shift may also
be noted in his use of the argument that the Arians could be refuted
27

LB VI, 375B.
I am assuming
that the 1535 edition, as here reprinted by Leclerc,
for the 1527 edition.
represents
changes made by Erasmus
28
of
The
"Humanists
and Holy Writ:
Pauline
Jerry H.
Bentley,
Scholarship
of Min
Erasmus
and Lorenzo
Valla"
Ph.D.
dissertation,
(unpublished
University
nesota,
1976), pp. 186, 213,
29
LB IX, 273A, 551C.
30
LB VI, 337CD.
31 LB
IX, 1172AB.

228.

BY JAMES D. TRACY

a ratiocinatio

based on Scripture.
the Spanish
Against
as
he
in
to John
follows
reference
(1521)
theologian Zu?iga
argued
"Et
erat
Deus
Verbum":32
1:1,

only

by

That Christ
seems

is openly called God may

to me,

a certain

by

indeed be gathered, but only, it


rather

ratiocinatio

than

a manifest

by

appella

tion. For John teaches that theWord existed from the beginning, indeed
without beginning, before the creation of the world, and that that Word
was

of divine
He

because

and

nature,
assumed

to be what

He

what
it may

was,

same

the

that

was

He

not

was

be gathered

man.

But

that He

did

not

cease

that

the

same

was

afterwards

in such wise
with

certainty,

made

of dual nature, human and divine. And this I have testified can be
gathered from many texts of divine Scripture, and I shall be impious if
ever

I should

doubt

Pio ten years

Alberto

Against

this matter.

concerning

later he argues

For this is what I have written,


not

be

also

employed.
from
the most

doubt
His
so

refuted

evidently

as

glory
loved

a Son

and

if by

that the pertinacity of the Arians could


the

unless

Scriptures,
that

shown

this

were

ratiocinatio

ratiocinatio

should

be

taken

of the divine
nature.
without
simplicity
Scripture
seen
of God
1, "And we have
'only-begotten,'
John
the only-begotten
Son of the Father."
3, "God
Again
chapter
simple
Son

the world

fore

I have

And

the

calls

from

as follows:33

through
nature,

that He

gave
as are

grace,
born

of

the

passages have a certain


serts that Scripture proclaims
an affirmation
he mistakenly

His
the

substance

only-begotten
other

Son."

saints.

Thus

(substantia)

of

He

is not

through

there
nature:

the Father.

common

core, for in both Erasmus as


the Son of God to be of divine nature,
believed was also to be found in the
'Arian' creed of Rimini. But while the former ratiocinatio
contains
as Erasmus
that would
conflict with the Synod of Rimini
nothing
understood
and Nicene
formula
it, the latter adopts the Athanasian
that the Word
is of the same substance (homoousion-consubstantialis)
as the Father.

Both

It may

seem

to relate Erasmus'
by way of explanation,
to
of
the
Arian
conflict
views concerning
his
changing
interpretation
the Protestant
Reformation.
Like Arius, Luther was
in Erasmus'
driven
from
the
of
the
certain
Church
hatred
opinion
by
segments of
the clergy.34 Like the bishops at Rimini, Erasmus advocated
for the
of his day an irenic ambiguity,
controversies
matters
that
suggesting
32
33
34

LB

IX,

LB

IX,

Above,

tempting,

310BC.
1175DE.
note

19.

AND THEARIANS
ERASMUS

10

not be made
articles of
and papal
like predestination
infallibility
faith.35 In both cases too his attitude toward church authority grew
more positive with the passage of time. At first he defends the consen
sus Ecclesiae
mainly for the sake of peace and unity: just as Arianism
as a whole
the
a heresy only when
the Church
became
adopted
so
the
that
it
is
"more
Nicene
Spirit
speaks
Holy
probable"
position,
through the bishops than through Martin Luther.36 Later he seems
more disposed to accept certain church doctrines on their own merits:
concerning the divinity of Christ now in effect
just as his ratiocinatio
he also argues that the dogma of original
is 'proven' by the
is debatable,
evidence
Church's age-long practice of infant baptism.37 But despite these gen
few if any direct comparisons
eral parallels, Erasmus himself makes
in church history. In the
these two great periods of division
between
to the contrary, one ought to assume he was
absence of evidence
includes the homoousion,
sin, for which
Scriptural

that history
of a scholar not to take too seriously the maxim
course
more
of
seems
his
the
that
itself.
It
thinking on
likely
repeats
own
course
of
his
the
followed
church
reading
history
fourth-century
to Athanasius.
His
in patristic sources, from Jerome through Hilary
vile
to
on
"the
offhand
reference
the
whole topic?an
last statement
a
to
in
his
preface
enough,
significantly
posterity of Arius"?comes,
enough

in 1532.
treatise De Spiritu Sancto3*
is
In conclusion,
itmay be suggested that the question of Arianism
can
be
best
that
but one of a number of topics in Erasmus'
thought
work on
approached
by paying more attention to his much-neglected
the Fathers of the Church. As to his attitude toward church author
is familiar in its broad out
ity, the result of this brief investigation
translation

of St. Basil's

combines profes
lines but novel in its details. Up to 1526, Erasmus
with certain reserva
to the consensus Ecclesiae
sions of allegiance
tions as to its content, even on a question so basic as that concerning
of Christ
is most fittingly pro
in which
the divinity
the manner
in the last decade of his life, he moves
claimed. Thereafter,
subtly but
the
toward
this
from
somewhat
away
skeptical position
unmistakably
faith of the Counter-Reformation.
35
The Growth
1972), pp. 187-196.
(Geneva,
of a Mind
Tracy, Erasmus:
36
De Servo Arbitrio.
37
LB IX, 985A-988B.
38
in the same category
13. Erasmus
also now put Arians and Manicheans
Allen, X,
doc
between
he had earlier (Allen, 4:574; 5:183) distinguished
(Allen, 9:47), whereas
and those teachings
trines that had some claim to a basis in Scripture
(like Arianism)
that were

manifestly

false and unscriptural

(like Manicheanism).